terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Meulaboh, Part 15


Day 4, Baker
At 1430 hours, the word comes through our SAF escorts' signal set that we've got to pack up and be ready to leave once the vehicle comes round our neighbourhood. The entire team protest, in one voice. It was a beautiful moment of one-minded spontaneity, but we do not get rewarded for it. It seems to me leaving now reinforces in many of us the whole notion that our stay in Meulaboh has been nothing more than a show: "Oh look, Singaporeans have hearts. They've come to help the unfortunate people of Indonesia." And five days later: "Right, there's enough coverage, let's go!"

We pack up reluctantly, then walk around the school for one last look. I take a last photograph (or so I thought) of the school; the before/ after difference is amazing.

It is a long process of saying goodbye to Pak Ali, Pak Aji and the Muhammadiyah volunteers. Email addresses are exchanged, and snail mail addresses as well, for me to send some of the photographs to Budi and his people.

When the vehicles arrive, the other NGOs ask for a tour of the school. There is no shortage of envy. We bring them around and take them down Mercy Road and Relief Avenue to show them the classrooms and the furniture we'd repaired. We learn later that the principals of the other schools in Meulaboh had refused the help of the other NGOs.

When it is time to leave, there was a second round of goodbyes for the Mercy Relief team. There were hugs, handshakes and much bowing. In full view of the other volunteers looking on from their vehicles.

Meulaboh, Day 4 #10
Originally uploaded by Terz.

Meulaboh, Day 4 #11
Originally uploaded by Terz.

Almost immediately, it becomes apparent to us how utterly stupid it was that we were told to pack up this early. Apparently there isn't enough transportation for all of us and we are made to wait a while longer. It's another 40 minutes before we load up. At the shore, there is another fuck-up. The FCU deployed to bring us back to the Endeavour forgets to bring our PFDs (personal flotation devices) and it has to return to the LST. It's another hour before we return to the ship. That's 2 and a half hours of our time that we'll never get back. 2 and a half hours of more that could have been done.

The only thing we're proud of is the help we've given to Pak Ali and the neighbourhood. We are not happy about leaving the work here unfinished. Everything feels incomplete. When we were saying goodbye the second time, Pak Ali had tried to give us money out of his own savings for our efforts. It was an uncomfortable few moments before it is decided that he should give the money to the three labourers* instead.

* The labourers had been at the school since the tsunamis hit, working to clear the larger pieces of debris from the school and around the neighbourhood. They are not locals, but have been working in Meulaboh to support their families. They work for Pak Ali so they can earn enough to go home (they'd lost everything they'd earned in tsunamis) and find out if their families survived.

A group photograph is taken at the disembarkation point amid a great deal of ass-kissing. I do not even bother to pass either of my cameras to the SAF servicemen tasked with the job of taking the photos. It felt wrong, like the group photographs taken on package tours.

My last contact with the people of Meulaboh is someone we met on the beach, a woman named Rosita. She tells us how when the wave struck, she had been carrying her younger daughter; how she had been separated from the child by the force of the waves and was washed about 2 km inland; how she had lost her husband and both daughters, aged 4 and 1, in the tragedy; how she had sustained internal injuries that are still causing her pain and how she has been shitting sand for the past three weeks; how she has not been receiving all the humanitarian aid that's been going around because she has been staying with her brother's family and had not known about the DPCs or any of the international aid centres.

Meulaboh, Day 4 #12
Originally uploaded by Terz.

It's too much for us to take and some walk away. We get some people from the PMI to help her and they make arrangements for her to report to one of the DPCs the next day.

The last I saw of her, she was walking past the giant piles of debris towards the rest of the town.

Meulaboh, Day 4 #13
Originally uploaded by Terz.

(To be continued)



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